Tepid Welcome Germany Struggles to Lure Skilled Workers
Part 2: Tale of Demoralization
Last June, Martin Zeil (FDP), who was then Bavaria's minister of economic affairs, took part in a panel discussion at the University of Passau titled "Study and Stay in Bavaria." He praised Bavaria's excellent institutions of higher education and the outstanding conditions for foreign students. After Zeil's speech, Carlos García, 27, a student from Venezuela, stood up and nervously took hold of the microphone. He said the authorities treated him as if he were unwanted, adding that they did everything they could to get rid of him.
García had come to Passau 10 years earlier as an exchange student. He said he spent a so-called "voluntary year" working in the community, attended a preparatory university course in Munich, and started studying economics in Passau. He noted that he felt at home in Bavaria and had made friends.
But García said the harassment that he suffered at the hands of immigration authorities had "demoralized" him. His residence permit was extended for only a few months at a time. Otherwise -- at least according to the authorities -- he could have taken advantage of German generosity and tried to work in the country. García said that when he applied for permission to do an internship, he was told that he was in Germany to study, not work.
García sent a letter to the mayor of Passau. He wrote that he dreamed of becoming a German citizen and establishing a company. "For me, the future is here," he wrote. "I would like to be able to move about freely and earn a living." The mayor -- who is a member of the SPD -- responded that he unfortunately could do nothing for García. He said students like him were expected to return to their home countries.
The fourth reason that the country has not attracted more foreign workers is that German companies have been reluctant to recruit them. According to an OECD study, between July 2010 and July 2011 nine out of 10 German companies had vacant positions, but only one in four extended their search for personnel outside of Germany. When it comes to small and medium-sized companies, only between one and two out of 10 considered looking abroad. Many companies feared that it would be difficult, risky and expensive to recruit employees from foreign countries.
"Small and medium-sized companies can't afford this kind of thing," says Volker Steinmaier from the Südwestmetall employers' association in the southern German state of Baden-Württemberg. He represents companies like manufacturers and small engineering firms that are currently having difficulties filling vacancies for skilled workers. It's far too difficult and costly to look abroad, says Steinmaier. He says that there are "hardly any companies that have the resources" to attend job fairs in foreign countries, build networks with foreign colleges and universities and establish contacts with foreign employment agencies.
Big companies like Allianz have less trouble doing so. The insurance and financial services giant organizes "Welcome Days" at its Munich headquarters. New employees are assigned so-called buddies who help them settle in and get acquainted with the firm. "Companies and politicians have to improve the general conditions for those who can contribute to Germany's competitiveness with their knowledge and expertise," says Werner Zedelius, who is a member of the board at Allianz.
Germany has to learn to woo immigrants. This requires nothing less than instilling a new culture in German society -- in government agencies and among politicians and personnel managers.
Allianz executive Zedelius says this includes marketing Germany's advantages. That "has perhaps not yet been properly" done, he admits. "The German government is acting far too defensively," agrees Christine Langenfeld, the SVR chairwoman. She says the country lacks modern "immigration marketing," and argues that far too little has been done to get the word out about programs that make it easier to work in Germany, like the EU Blue Card. "The reforms belong in the display window," Langenfeld says, "and not under the counter."
Translated from the German by Paul Cohen.
- Part 1: Germany Struggles to Lure Skilled Workers
- Part 2: Tale of Demoralization